I recently did a post in which I talked about the heavy cross borne by those who are especially gifted and talented. As Christians, it is a constant struggle for the "above average" to remember that they are not self sufficient, and that despite their abilities, they are as dependent upon their Creator as all of us average nobodies are.
My first inkling that something was not quite right with Father Rutler was when I was told last year by a third party that he was harshly critical of the pastor who had succeeded him at Our Saviour Church in midtown Manhattan. It seemed highly inappropriate that Father Rutler was criticizing a fellow priest to a member of the laity. However, I was getting this information secondhand, so I didn't let it disturb me too much.
But I became somewhat alarmed when I read one of Father Rutler's weekly posts which he publishes in his church bulletin and which anyone can receive via email. The one I refer to is dated March 15, 2015 and concerns the St. Patrick's Day Parade in NYC. You can read the entire post HERE. Unless you are from Mars, you are quite aware that the parade this year was especially controversial because it was the first year an openly gay group was allowed to march in the parade, and even more controversial, Cardinal Dolan was the Grand Marshal. Father Rutler never explicitly mentioned Cardinal Dolan or even the fact that a gay group was marching in the parade. He was much more subtle.
Father Rutler's column, suitably enough for St. Patrick's Day, concerned St. Patrick. He spoke first of all of St. Patrick's conversion and ordination as bishop. Father Rutler quoted St. Patrick as being plain spoken in condemning sinners. The good Father then lamented "what has become of his feast in the streets of our city." As I wrote earlier this year, it has amazed me that so many think that it is only now that St. Patrick's Day has become a secular holiday. It has always been a secular holiday here in New York City. There is nothing new about this. Like Christmas, Easter and Halloween, the world has taken St. Patrick's feast day and made it into their own holiday which has little to do with the original meaning. Yes, the Catholic Church has always taken part in the St. Patrick's Day Parade here in New York, but nonetheless, it has always been a secular holiday.
Father Rutler, however, seems to believe that until recently, St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in a solemn, religious manner, and it is only now that it has been secularized. He writes:
[St. Patrick] certainly would decry the notion that his feast was merely a celebration of an ethnic identity which was not his, or of a conviviality not rooted in Christian moral reason.Here is a newsflash: St. Patrick's Day has always been a "celebration of an ethnic identity" here in New York City. It started as a way of the Irish showing their ethnic pride. If St. Patrick was going to get upset about this, he would have been upset on March 17, 1762 when the first St. Patrick's Day parade in the history of mankind was held by Irish soldiers serving in the British army right here in NYC.
Father Rutler then takes a very subtle but yet very clear swipe at his boss, Cardinal Dolan, the Grand Marshal of the 2015 parade. Father Rutler writes:
This is not to dampen good spirits and rightful celebration, risky though they are in these Forty Days when the shadow of the Cross looms larger daily. But it is a reminder of the cost of discipleship in a cynical culture, and of the heavy cost of succumbing to the threats of the morally bewildered who, with adolescent petulance, would intimidate the Church that carried the Gospel across the Irish Sea. Patrick said when he braved the dark pagan groves: “If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though they may despise me.”There can be no doubt as to whom these words are directed. Father Rutler is accusing Cardinal Dolan of "succumbing" to the culture, and of not teaching the Word of God because of his fear of being "despised." Father Rutler, of course, is entitled to his own opinion. However, to publicly voice such harsh criticism in regard to a prince of the Church - and his own Ordinary - is surely stretching the promise of obedience that he took when he was ordained.
Another troubling article by Father Rutler is one which I mentioned in my previous post, in which he criticized Pope Francis for speaking against those who sell weapons of war. As I showed in my post, Father Rutler displayed a great misunderstanding of the Pope's message, and his criticism was completely off the mark. The problem is, Father Rutler writes very well and in a very convincing manner, and many of those who read his words take them to heart as though they had the authority of the Magesterium.
Father Rutler even had the audacity to scold the Holy Father in his article [HERE]:
No one should be held accountable for the sins of antecedents, be they of commission or omission. But everyone should refrain from playing Monday Morning Quarterback when it comes to wars. In spite of that nice line about Waterloo and Eton, battles are not won on playing fields. Their proportions are blurred by a vision that is retrospect, and their strategies cannot be assessed by impulsive rhetoric far removed from the shouts from the frontline.Words such as those quoted above contribute to great divisiveness in the Church, which is never the work of the Holy Spirit. Father Rutler would do well to remember that Pope Francis lived through very turbulent times in Argentina when many people, including priests and religious, were regularly murdered by members of the military. Pope Francis, as Father Bergoglio, saved scores of people from sure death by hiding them and sending them out of the country, and putting his own life at risk in the process, as you can read in this article from the New York Post. Pope Francis knows what it means to live in a state of war and speaks from personal experience. It is not Pope Francis but Father Rutler who has no personal experience of war, and who is guilty of "playing Monday Morning Quarterback when it comes to wars" and who is "blurred by a vision that is retrospect."
My latest concern about Father Rutler is his recent article about pews in churches. It is Father Rutler's contention that pews should be removed from all Catholic churches. He entitles his article, "The Problem With Pews". Not surprisingly, Father John Zuhlsdorf linked to Fr. Rutler's article in a post entitled, "Down With Pews!" and seconded the notion:
My friend Fr. George Rutler is in Crisis. He is talking about pews. He has a few digressions – he wouldn’t be the writer he is without digressions – on the Roman vestment. But his observations about pews are dead on.Of all the problems in the church, this would seem to be at the very bottom of the list, if it can even be considered a problem. However, Father Rutler seems to believe that pews are contributing to the spiritual destruction of many.
Father Rutler starts out his article telling us about the queen consort of George V, Mary of Teck, who hated climbing ivy. Father Rutler tells us that Mary of Teck had a lifelong obsession with tearing ivy off buildings. Father Rutler informs us that ivy actually damages stones, and therefore it should be removed.
What has this to do with pews in churches? Well, as Father Rutler writes, "Pews are the climbing ivy of God’s house. My case is that they should be removed. . . . Pews contradict worship. They suburbanize the City of God and put comfort before praise."
It is unclear if Father Rutler's intention would be to replace the pews with chairs. Does he mean that we should never sit but only stand or kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament? The following statement would seem to indicate that Father Rutler wants to eliminate seating of any kind:
For most of the Christian ages, there were no pews, or much seating of any sort. There were proper accommodations for the aged (fewer then than now) and for the infirm (probably more then than now) but churches were temples and not theatres. One need only look at the Orthodox churches (except where decadence has crept in) or the mosques whose architectural eclecticism echoes their religion’s origin as a desiccated offshoot of Christianity, to see what churches were meant to look like.Here is the inside of a mosque, which has no seating at all:
And this is the inside of an orthodox church in Syria, also showing no seating except on the sides:
So this would appear to indicate that unless we are aged and/or infirmed, Father Rutler believes we should never sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Now I personally spend a fair amount of time in church with adoration, all night prayer vigils, and just time before and after Mass. I actually do try to kneel as much as possible, but my decades old knees can only take so much, especially when it is over a several hour period at a prayer vigil. And standing isn't much better.
It is safe to say that people who go to mosques or orthodox churches go there for specific periods of time to pray and then they're out. They don't have the Real Presence, so there is no reason to stick around any longer than the time it takes to pray. That is not true with Catholic Churches. We go to church to spend time with Our Lord in the tabernacle. We try to stay as long as our schedule will allow. If you force us to kneel or stand at all times, that will greatly limit the time we can physically tolerate being in church and in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
For me, I would have to resort to the words of an old Chicago song:
Giving up I close my eyesSitting cross-legged on the floorTwenty five or six to four
If Father Rutler would succeed in his plans to eliminate pews or any kind of seating in the churches, he will drive even more people out because they just will not be able to physically hack it.
I have another question: would Father Rutler eliminate the seating in the sanctuary used by the priests and servers during Mass? Would they be forced to stand at all times? Seems only fair.
|Celebrant, Deacon and Subdeacon seated during TLM|
Another problem with removing the pews is, of course, will there be kneelers? Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in downtown Manhattan has both an upper and a lower church. The upper church has the traditional pews, but the lower church has chairs with kneelers attached. When you wish to kneel, you lower the kneeler on the chair in front of you. By eliminating seating of any kind, you must of necessity eliminate any kind of kneelers. I know my knees could only take kneeling on the floor - especially if it isn't carpeted - for a very short time, and I am sure that is true for most others. Father Rutler does not address this issue, either.
Father Rutler makes the argument that pews in Christ's time were just for the Pharisees "who enjoyed seats in high places . . .and this eventually extended to other people of means and in fact became a source of income. Pew rentals were precursors of pledging for the bishop’s annual appeal.” I am sure that Father Rutler is aware that although this may have been true at one time, churches no longer charge for the use of pews, and the poorest to the richest are allowed to sit in any pew they choose.
Father Rutler contends that pews were primarily used by Protestants and "gradually were adapted by Catholics in areas imbued with a Protestant culture and were alien to purer Latin traditions." Ah, so according to Father Rutler, those of us who actually use pews are really Protestant in nature!
Yet, despite this statement, Father Rutler defends his argument by pointing to the writings of a Protestant, "John Coke Fowler, an Anglican barrister" who, in 1854, wrote "24 Reasons for Getting Rid of Church Pews." Father Rutler then points to another Protestant to make his point: "Paradoxically, James Renwick who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, was an Episcopalian, but he tried to explain to Cardinal McCloskey that pews were Protestant and inappropriate for a Catholic cathedral." This really gets confusing. Father Rutler condemns pews because he claims they are protestant in nature, and then quotes Protestants to bolster his argument that they should not be used!
Father Rutler does confess that not only did he not remove the pews from his former church, but he actually restored them:
I confess that a few years ago I restored worn pews in my former church, knowing that there was little time to form minds on the subject. In the few months that the church was empty of the pews, people came to admire the uncluttered proportions.A year or so ago one of the churches I attended also restored the pews, and the people were not happy at all when there were no pews to sit in. That particular church substituted chairs for the pews. I wonder if Father Rutler did the same. Personally, I can't imagine that his Park Avenue parishioners at that time would tolerate not having something upon which to sit.
Father Rutler then makes a criticism which just boggles my mind. It is as follows:
Ascetically, pews stratify the people as passive participants. There actually are churches where ushers, like maître d’s in a cabaret, move down the aisle pew by pew, indicating when the people can go to Communion.I know Father Rutler is far superior to me intellectually,and maybe that is why I don't understand his arguments. But how do pews "stratify people as passive participants"? I don't understand that. Further, I attended Our Saviour church more than a few times during Father Rutler's tenure there, and this is exactly how we went to communion: ushers moved down the aisle pew by pew, indicating when people could go to communion. And yet this is what Father Rutler is condemning! I honestly don't know any other method by which people can process orderly to Communion, and obviously he doesn't either since this is the method employed in his own church. I really don't know what to think of this statement.
Father Rutler also seems to condone those who wander around during Mass visiting the various statues and lighting candles in the church:
Especially in a busy city parish, people wandering about and lighting candles and casting a curious eye at images, can be distracting, but it is also a healthy sign that people are freed by grace to be at home in the House of God, unlike the passive creature known as a couch potato or, in this instance, a pew potato.For someone who is so concerned about proper respect being paid to the Blessed Sacrament, condoning those who wander around the church during Mass instead of staying in those "wicked" pews just makes no sense to me.
Later in his article Father Rutler brings up the subject of small seats on subway cars to bolster his argument:
In 1982, the Kawaski Heavy Industries Company of Japan designed subway cars for the New York City subway system and had to go back to the drawing board at great expense, because the seats were not wide enough for the average American posterior. There still are a few cars with the original seats in use on the No. 3 line, presumably for commuters with narrower sedentary profiles. I submit this as a reminder that when an indulged culture makes comfort its god, it is worshipping a very fickle idol.
|Small Seats on #3 train in NYC|
I would not normally waste an entire blog post on such an article, the topic of which is of no real importance, in my estimation. But it was the last few sentences of Father Rutler's article that prompted me to write this post. First, he demeans those who would disagree with him:
It will disappoint me if my opinions do not irritate people who could not fit into a seat on the No. 3 subway, or who like to lounge in pews in ivy-covered churches.For the record, I have ridden the No. 3 train (and other lines) with the narrow seats and I fit just fine into those seats. Further, I am not "lounging" when I sit in church. I am either following the rubrics of the Mass or I am giving my aged knees a break. So these two reasons cannot be held up as the reasons why Father Rutler's opinions irritate me.
It was Father Rutler's last sentences that "irritated" me the most:
I could be wrong. I am not the pope. But he is infallible only in matters of faith and morals. On other matters not touching those two subjects, I have found myself to be instinctively and consistently right.I am sure this is Father Rutler's attempt at humor when he pats himself on the back for always being "instinctively and consistently right." However, at the same time, it is quite apparent that he has complete confidence in his own personal judgments over and above the Holy Father. Father Rutler has made it very clear in previous writings that he has strong disagreements with Pope Francis, and as I have shown, he has even "scolded" the Holy Father in his writings.
In fact, when Laudato Si came out, Father Rutler told us basically that we don't have to listen to the Pope. Like the good conservative he is, Father Rutler denies global warming. Therefore, he rejects anything the Pope has to say on this matter, and advises us that we can follow him in this rejection, which you can read HERE. Notice the scolding he gives the Holy Father, even castigating Pope Francis for using an encyclical to discuss "unsettled science" as he defines it:
It is noteworthy that Pope Francis would have included in an encyclical, instead of lesser teaching forms such as an apostolic constitution or motu proprio, subjects that still pertain to unsettled science (and to speak of a “consensus” allows that there is not yet a defined absolute) . The Second Vatican Council, as does Pope Francis, makes clear that there is no claim to infallibility in such teaching. The Council (Lumen Gentium, n.25) does say that even the “ordinary Magisterium” is worthy of a “religious submission of intellect and will” but such condign assent is not clearly defined. It does not help when a prominent university professor of solid Catholic commitments says that in the encyclical “we are about to hear the voice of Peter.” That voice may be better heard when, following the advice of the encyclical (n.55) people turn down their air conditioners. One awaits the official Latin text to learn its neologism for “condizione d’aria.” While the Holy Father has spoken eloquently about the present genocide of Christians in the Middle East, those who calculate priorities would have hoped for an encyclical about this fierce persecution, surpassing that of the emperor Decius. Pictures of martyrs being beheaded, gingerly filed away by the media, give the impression that their last concern on earth was not climate fluctuations.Father Rutler is going out on a limb here, and that limb is cracking. He contends that global warming and its catastrophic effects on our world are not "settled science" and therefore, Pope Francis had no right to make this the subject of an encyclical, which is a papal document to be used to explain faith and morals. However, as the Holy Father, Pope Francis has declared the destruction of the planet, caused by man's greed and disregard for human life and life in general, to be a matter of faith and morals. For those of us who have actually read the encyclical, we are quite aware of how profoundly Pope Francis preaches the gospel of salvation in this encyclical. It is all about faith and morals. Read it and find out for yourself.
For the record, as Father Rutler admits, Pope Francis has spoken out many times about the horrific persecution and martyrdom of Christians in the world today. And as shown above, he has personally saved lives in warlike situations. It is possible to address one subject without omitting the other. Further, it is the Holy Father's prerogative to choose the subjects he feels are important enough to address in a papal encyclical. It is not our prerogative to ignore him, contrary to the statements of Father Rutler.
|Professor Robert P. George|
"Catholic friends: If I may offer a word of advice, please receive the forthcoming papal encyclical in a spirit of willingness to listen and to be taught by the Holy Father. Do not approach it by simply looking for what one agrees with or disagrees with on matters of climate science or anything else. The gift of the papal magisterium to us, the faithful, is just that: a gift--a charism. We are to receive it as such. We can, and no doubt each of us will, appreciate the fact that different teachings or aspects of the teaching contained in the document will be proposed at different levels of authority. That is virtually always true of teaching instruments of this sort. But there will be plenty of time to sort all that out. It should NOT be our first priority. Our first priority should be to open ourselves to learning what is to be learned from the Holy Father's reflections on the physical and moral ecology in the context of the Church's witness to, and proclamation of, the Gospel. We are about to hear the voice of Peter. Our first and most important task is to listen attentively and with open-hearted willingness to be taught."How does one explain a Catholic parish priest telling Catholic laity that they should ignore advice to "receive the forthcoming papal encyclical in a spirit of willingness to listen and to be taught by the Holy Father." Why is Father Rutler so upset with the statement: "We are about to hear the voice of Peter. Our first and most important task is to listen attentively and with open-hearted willingness to be taught"? Father Rutler feels our first and most important task is to determine if the Pope's statements are worthy of our attention, and if they are not, we don't have to pay any attention to the Pope. Father Rutler - who tells us he is always right - says climate change is of no concern, so you can ignore Pope Francis.
Am I the only one who finds this statement very troubling?
Father Rutler, and all those who reject the idea of climate change, should be aware that 97% of the world's scientists say climate change is settled science. I know there are those who dispute that number, but that doesn't make it any less true. As the article I have linked to states, this number is taken from 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers. This is not just something pulled out of the air, as much as Father Rutler and others would like to think.
But whether one accepts the validity of climate change or not is really not the issue. The issue is that Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. He is Christ's personal representative here on earth. It matters greatly to our Lord how we treat His Vicar. Remember the parable of the tenants in Mark 12:1-12:
Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard.He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.The tenants in this parable wanted things their own way. They did not want to submit to the owner of the vineyard. It seems that Father Rutler is falling into this very dangerous trap. He is making his own decisions as to when or whether he will submit to the Vicar of Christ, who is Christ's Personal Representative on earth. This attitude is spilling over into how he speaks of his own bishop and how he speaks of fellow priests. As I showed in my previous post, Father Rutler felt totally justified in emailing his many supporters and telling them to go after his successor at St. Saviour in any way they could, and those followers willingly complied with Father Rutler's wishes.
As Our Lord tells us in the parable, the tenants in the parable in Mark 12 then treated the Son just as they treated the servants.
6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all,saying, ‘They will respect my son.’As our Lord said, the way we treat the least of our brethren is how we treat him. And certainly, He views the way we treat His Servants very personally. When Father Rutler scolds Pope Francis, he is scolding Our Lord Himself. When Father Rutler tells his followers not to listen to the Pope, he is telling them not to listen to Jesus Christ. It is not a pretty fact, but it is as simple as that.
7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
Father Rutler, as a Catholic priest who has taken promises of obedience to church authority, has no right to publicly contradict the Vicar of Christ as he has now done on numerous occasions. He has truly overstepped his authority here and is getting into very dangerous territory.
As Father Rutler states in his article concerning pews, he has much more faith in his own opinions than in what Pope Francis has to say. Father Rutler gives the Holy Father credit for infallibility in "faith and morals", but he gives a very narrow definition to this, and feels free to criticize Pope Francis in pretty much any way he chooses. And his followers applaud him and urge him on.
I am really not trying to condemn Father Rutler in any way. But I do believe that his constant criticism of the Holy Father and others in the Church shows that he is not on solid ground. He is a validly ordained priest of the Catholic Church, and deserves the respect of that office. But when he starts talking against valid Church authority and more specifically, against the Vicar of Christ, he needs to be called out, and that is what I am doing.
As I have written above, Father Rutler carries a very heavy and dangerous cross. Pray that he is given the grace to carry it gracefully and for the honor of Jesus Christ.